MOSCOW — Twenty-three Russian soldiers were crushed to death after their military barracks collapsed in Siberia, the latest disaster to hit a country known for shoddy construction work and lax safety standards.
An entire section of military barracks, including parts of the roof and walls, collapsed on Sunday evening just outside the Siberian city of Omsk as paratroopers were resting, the defence ministry said.
“As a result of the collapse, more than 40 servicemen were injured,” Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said on Monday.
“Twenty three conscripts died, the others were hospitalized with various injuries.”
Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said 19 servicemen had been hospitalized.
The barracks — built in 1975 and renovated in 2013 — belong to the 242nd training center that prepares junior officers and armored infantry vehicle drivers, among others.
President Vladimir Putin has been informed of the incident, which occurred in the village of Svetly just outside Omsk, some 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) east of Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman said.
“The president expressed condolences to the families of the victims of the accident at the Omsk training center,” the Kremlin said.
Putin was regularly being briefed by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has been tasked with providing all necessary assistance to the victims, the Kremlin added.
In footage shown on Russian television, soldiers formed a human chain to pass bricks and other debris from one to another as they cleared the mountain of rubble from the collapse.
“Half of the heap has been cleared now,” acting commander of Russian paratroopers Nikolai Ignatov said in televised remarks.
Nearly 350 rescue workers and search dogs have been dispatched to the scene, along with military prosecutors.
“Rescue works lasted through the night,” a spokeswoman for the governor of the Omsk region told AFP. “The governor was there all night.”
‘Paratroopers’ Mass Grave’
The first 10 injured men have been airlifted to top hospitals in Moscow, the defence ministry said.
“Another specially equipped plane of the Defence Ministry with seven servicemen of the Airborne Forces’ training center will fly out to Moscow in the coming hours,” the ministry said.
About 50 relatives of the injured or dead soldiers have already arrived in Omsk.
Authorities tied the collapse of the barracks to negligence on the part of construction workers.
The Investigative Committee, which reports directly to Putin, opened a probe into negligence, violation of safety rules and abuse of power, adding that those found guilty would face up to 10 years in prison.
Markin, the committee’s spokesman, said investigators were probing several explanations for the tragedy, including possible violations during renovations in 2013.
Building collapses and other infrastructure accidents are fairly frequent in Russia, especially outside Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where the enforcement of safety regulations is lax and corruption rampant.
On Saturday a section of a residential building collapsed in the Urals city of Perm, killing two.
The latest tragedy represents a major blow to Putin who has made reviving the army after years of post-Soviet neglect a cornerstone of his policies.
The barracks has become the “paratroopers’ mass grave,” broadsheet daily Kommersant said.